Obsessive teen love — is there any other kind?
It can get out of hand in a heartbeat. Especially when the crush is on a “Hearthrob.” Especially when the guy with the crush on the hearthtrob is focused, M.I.T. bound, inexperienced and obsessive by nature.
Writer-director Chris Siverston (“I Know Who Killed Me”) tries his hand at another thriller set among the young and the restless with this dreamy, moody tale of “Endless Love” leading to violence.
And even though it’s got a novel setting (Tacoma) and some sharp observations to make about personalities, set for life in your teens, learning that every choice has consequences and escaping the judgments of your past and “reputation,” it fails on the most simplest levels.
It’s a low-energy thriller that doesn’t build suspense, leaves little that’s “mysterious” and fails to make us fear for the heroine by giving her most of the clues we the viewer have been shown, and having her remain oblivious to what the film posits as her existential threat.
That class valedictorian she’s summer slumming with? It’s the smart, quiet ones you have to watch out for.
Aubrey Peebles of “Sharknado” and TV’s “Nashville” stars as Sam, our narrator, fresh out of high school and pretty much out of boys to tempt among her peers. She has “a reputation.”
That’s the only thing about her that smart kid Henry, played by Keir Gilchrist with more hostility than lonely valedictorian nerdiness, knows. “SLUT” is what he writes in his journal the day he runs into her on the beach where she’s just been shunned at a memorial service for a classmate who used to be her best friend.
Him? She knows just as much about him as everybody else in class, at least in her party until we hook-up crowd — “Valedictorian Henry.” When he brushes her off by suggesting guys like him are “Dark Matter” in the universe of their school — unseen, ignored — she gets her back up. She’s not having his “wise sage schooling the class bimbo” nonsense.
Henry is smitten. And “smitten” in a thriller is code-language for “obsessed.”
He observes, makes mental notes, reasons out a stragetgy. Her car won’t start after her shift at the diner, Henry’s there to give her a life home. He apologizes for judging her and underestimating her. That’s flattering.
“I think I’d like to ask for your number.”
The innocence of their “FIRST DATE” (a inter-title) is only faintly chilled by Gilchrist’s button-his-shirt-to-the-top creeper-style performance of the part. He’s like a scary Justin Long.
Sure, she’s lovely, with the Kardashian vocal fry of the unread, the bored and too-cool-to-care (Peebles has something of a Margot Kidder as Lois Lane quality). All the boys are drawn to her and a lot of them suggest they have “history.”
But she’s like any other problem this aspiring bio-engineer (his mom’s choice of major) approaches — solvable.
Sam doesn’t know Henry ensured her car wouldn’t start. She doesn’t see him snooping into her phone. She certainly doesn’t know he’s hacked it — more “research” into what she’s like and what she likes and who Henry’s competition might be.
Siverston populates the picture with reliable high school “types” — the mean girl twins (Rebecca and Caroline Huey), the hunky teacher that the girls lust for (Peter Facinelli of the “Twilight Saga”), the persistent ex-beau party boy Dustin (Jimmy Bennett) and that guy’s boorish, jockish pal (Tristan Decker).
“My man, give her the hiccups, yet?”
Siverston undercuts the “I’m dating a sweet, considerate guy — for a change” charm far too early, gives away the game even as Sam’s mom (Ione Skye of “Say Anything…” way way back when) is swooning over this young gentleman with great potential who is doing wonders for a daughter whose self-esteem issues have her on a community college, service sector track, if teen pregnancy doesn’t get in the way.
Henry sticks up for Sam to his smarty-pants friends and won’t let her dis her community college choice “like it’s some consolation prize…it’s a college. You get out of it what you put into it.”
He’s whispering sciency sweet nothings in her ear and saying all the right things even as we, if not she, notice him noticing where her family hides its spare house keys.
We, if not she, recognize in an instant that Henry sees Dustin as a threat.
And we, as should she, know where this is all headed. But not really. Siverston escalates things into the realm of the ludicrous, even if he never has his cast pitch their performances to match the growing paranoia/hysteria and violence that follows.
Gilchrist (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,””It Follows”) leaves no doubt. Peebles plays it as if Sam has no clue, despite being deep and smart enough to be way ahead of us in this regard.
The acting, like the tepid thriller it is parked in, is so mild mannered it lowers the stakes when it should be raising them.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sexual situations, teen drinking and smoking
Cast: Aubrey Peebles, Keir Gilchrist, Peter Facinelli, Ione Skye
Credits:Written and directed by Chris Siverston. A Marvista release.
Running time: 1:26